Spectators easily gathered around The Ride and the centrifugal force created as the horse traveled around helped riders balance and perform “feats of horsemanship.” It was not long before Phillip spiced up the act by hiring musicians, acrobats, clowns, and animal trainers.
Phillip Astley had (unknowingly) created what is known as the ‘modern circus’. It would be decades before circuses became mobile and required covering from inclement weather. Eventually, tents replaced open-air coverings. Eclectic mixes of performers created circus magic under what became known as “The Big Top.”
Phillip Astley is not known for his “feats of horsemanship.” He is known for having the insight and ability to gather an unlikely group of performers under one Big Tent.
It is not hard to see church as a circus: academics, artists, clowns, and even magicians. An unlikely group of partners which typically gathers under their own little tents. Unfortunately, the Church is better known for highlighting its historical differences than for celebrating a shared Gospel of hope and courage. Big Tent Christianity* creates space for believers and seekers, for the faithful and the faithless, and for the saints and the sinners. Big Tent Christianity nurtures hope and courage by creating room for doubt and uncertainty. Big Tent Christianity welcomes strangers. Big Tent Christianity wonders what the questions are (especially if Jesus is the answer).
"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages..."
A disclaimer is necessary, however. When Christianity tries to be "The Greatest Show on Earth," bad stuff happens. Big Tent Christianity will never be “the Greatest Show on Earth,” but more like circus camp. Circus camp is fun to watch... when kids do it. When adults get involved it can get ugly to watch. Circus camp is for participating, not spectating. Put on a clown suit, some tights, and learn a trick or two. It can (and should) be fun. Corporations use circus training to build teams.
Play is serious business. Ask any kindergarten teacher. Ask Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play:
I don’t think it is too much to say that play can save your life. It certainly has salvaged mine. Life without play is a grinding, mechanical existence organized around doing the things necessary for survival. Play is the stick that stirs the drink. It is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.” ― Stuart Brown, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Come one and come all. Let's gather under the Big Tent. Come join the circus.
Click here for part 1, wide eyed Christianity.
Stay tuned for part 3.
*The term "Big Tent Christianity" was coined by my friend Phillip Clayton. "Big Tent Christianity" gatherings have even been held. While I believe my use here is consistent with Phillip's intent (as I understand it), I have not attempted to represent his "Big Tent" project with precision. To learn more about Phillip and his work, click here.